Pakistani lawyers boycotted court Thursday, demanding that President Pervez Musharraf step down. Musharraf has seen his popularity decline since he tried to dismiss the Supreme Court chief in March. Margaret Warner reports from Pakistan on the political tensions.
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Well, Margaret, you were at the Supreme Court today. What's the latest news bearing on the future of President Musharraf?
Well, Jeff, the Supreme Court was definitely where the action was today on that question. And no cameras are allowed in the courtroom, but I did go, and Chief Justice Chaudhry, the man who Musharraf tried to suspend in March and that sparked these nationwide protests of lawyers and ultimately of average Pakistanis, he was presiding, and the seven justices sitting up on this very imposing bench and the lawyers, including the attorney general down below.
The issue before the court today was whether Musharraf can — uniform or not — whether it's constitutional for him to run again. And the challenge that had been filed, actually, by one of the Islamist parties, Islamic religious parties, was that, under the constitution, you're disqualified from running for president if you've held a government-paid job any time in the last two years. And, of course, as army chief of staff, he still holds a government-paid job.
So the lawyers were going back and forth. At one point, the attorney general said to the bench — well, "Lords" is what they say, not "Your honor" — "We need a month to properly research that constitutional issue and get an answer to you." And Chaudhry just looked down and essentially said, "I don't think so." He said, "I could give you a week. How much time do you really need?"
And then there was a lot of back-and-forth, and they took a break. And when they came back, the attorney general said, "We're ready to go forward. We believe strongly that the president has every right to run for re-election under the constitution."
So then a long hearing ensued, and it recessed without a resolution. But there was no doubt, just watching the dynamics in the courtroom, that this bench has asserted itself and that everyone, including Musharraf's attorney general, fully recognizes it.